Erika Burns

When a warning isn't enough...

March 29, 2011 16:54

Today I read an article in the Strad magazine about tissue injuries. Naturally, this piqued my interest; I am in rehabilitation for such an injury. Interestingly, some medical experts are calling these injuries “maximum tissue exposure.” Whether a player has an existing injury that doesn't heal, doesn't rest enough between playing, or is getting to an age where it is harder for their tissue to recover, it is important to recognize that we have finite bodies.

Last summer, I wrote a blog post detailing my own struggles to recover from an injury I sustained four years ago.  I was frustrated, but hopeful that I would find an accurate diagnosis and recover. I didn't meet someone who knew how to treat my injury for another four months. My first quarter of the school year was miserable–later on, my teacher joked that we didn't want me to feel like a violinist leper anymore–I was constantly in pain and no one I worked with knew how to treat it. When I finally was able to start working with my current physical therapist, she found that my fascia was like cement and contorted out of position in various places around my body. With a mixture of fascia manipulation and Feldenkrais, I am starting to make a slow comeback. I went from playing five minutes or less a day for six months to 30 minutes in a month and a half. However, I still deal with my pain on a daily basis–but I can manage it as my body continues to improve. To me, there is no doubt that my tissue has reached “maximum exposure,” but I refuse to believe that I cannot recover. Yes, there is frustration, tears, and depression, but I can't give up. I dream of playing Bach, performing, and teaching in a program like El Sistema. 

In my readings, I have found so much information on preventative therapies–everyone needs to know this. I go to a school where injuries are common place. It is great that the Strad, Strings, and numerous books are stressing the need to play healthy. I don't think it has reached a big enough audience yet–and very few publications address what to do when you have an injury. Most refer to making a plan with your doctor/therapist and teacher.

That's not good enough.

Not many locations around this country have performing arts medical specialists. Even fewer music schools have on-staff therapists, Alexander technique/Feldenkrais specialists, or doctors who know how to treat musicians. This might seem like a luxury, but most musicians with injuries are left in the lurch. Some of us are lucky to have teachers who understand what it's like to recover from an injury. Still, getting a proper diagnosis and therefore the proper treatment can be a nightmare. I know people who had a case of tendinitis, rested, did physical therapy, and were playing a month later. I know others who, like myself, did all the above and nothing worked. Fascia injuries are often mistaken for other injuries like tendinitis or nerve impingements.

So what do we do? While venting about my earlier doctors makes me feel better, it doesn't help me heal. But I think there are a few things we can all do: first, we need to talk and share stories and treatment. I pass on the stretches I learned from my therapist to my fellow students. Secondly, learning relaxation techniques is a must. I am so self-critical that I often increase body's stress level. My muscles are in a state of perpetual tightness, which is the main cause of my pain. Thirdly, how often do we pay attention to our bodies? I know I am guilty of sequestering my awareness in my head. I would recommend looking into a method like Feldenkrais, which teaches you to use your body more efficiently.

The point is, WE need to be the literature on healing injuries. is a perfect place to come together and discuss. We also need to be advocates and communicate our experiences with the medical field, music schools, and students. Major injuries such as fascia pain interfere with all activities, not just music. Telling someone to give up the violin will not lead to healing (in fact, learning new music has caused me to recover faster); instead, we need to provide each other with support, encouragement, advice, and the beliefs that wellness and art can coexist--and that we can recover. 

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